1920′s Blues

Cow Cow Davenport5th Street Blues Boogie Woogie Blues
Cow Cow DavenportJim Crow BluesThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportCow Cow BluesThe Essential
Charlie SpandSoon This Morning Dreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandGood GalDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandBack To The Woods BluesDreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonYou Done Tore Your Playhouse DownCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Cripple Clarence LoftonStrut That Thing Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Cripple Clarence LoftonBrown Skin GirlsCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Walter RolandRed Cross BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandPenniless BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandJookit JookitLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Cow Cow DavenportChimes BluesThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportThat'll Get ItThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportState Street JiveThe Essential
Charlie SpandThirsty Woman BluesCharlie Spand: 1929-1931
Charlie SpandMoanin' The BluesDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandHastings St.Dreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonLofty BluesCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.2 1939-1943
Cripple Clarence LoftonI Don't KnowBoogie Woogie Piano: Chicago-New York 1924-45
Walter Roland45 Pistol BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandEarly This Morning ('Bout Break Of Day)Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandRailroad StompWalter Roland: Vol. 1 1933
Cow Cow DavenportMama Don't Allow No Easy RidersThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportRailroad BluesThe Essential
Charlie SpandRoom Rent BluesDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandAin't Gonna Stand For ThatDreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonCrying Mother Blues Broadcasting The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonStreamline Train Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.2 1939-1943
Walter RolandHouse Lady BluesWalter Roland: Vol. 1 1933
Walter RolandBig MamaLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential

Show Notes:

Today's show spotlights a quartet of great, mostly little remembered, barrelhouse and boogie pianists who's heyday was in the 1920's and 30's. Piano blues records were very popular on record in the 20's and 30's and by the early 1940's there was a full-fledged Boogie-Woogie craze. Today's pianists plied their trade in the juke joints, clubs and rent parties of Chicago, Detroit and down south. Today's best known artist is undoubtedly Cow Cow Davenport who's "Cow Cow Blues" has become a standard. Also on deck are the extroverted piano work of the colorful Cripple Clarence Lofton and the more subtle and technically adept playing of once popular race artists, Walter Roland and Charlie Spand. The bulk of today's notes come from Peter Silvester's A Left Hand Like God: A History of Boogie-Woogie Piano and from the liner notes to Francis Smith's groundbreaking 21 volume piano series on the Magpie label.

While the piano blues is something of a declining art form it flourished on record in the 1920’s-30’s and with the boogie-woogie craze of the 1940’s. To quote Peter J. Silvester’s A Left Hand Like God: A History of Boogie-Woogie Piano: "Originating in barrelhouses and entertainment spots that served the black labor force who worked in the lumber and railroad industries throughout the deep south, it could be heard later at rent parties in Chicago, buffet flats in St. Louis and other black urban centers like Birmingham, Al and several towns in Texas among others. When the music evolved into boogie-woogie entering New York nightclubs like Café Society, pianists such as Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons became stars. In the 1940’s the boogie-woogie craze hit big but faded by the 1950’s."

Cow Cow Davenport is remembered most for his famous song "Cow Cow Blues" which has elements of the style that would flourish as boogie-woogie. Davenport learned to play piano and organ in his father's church from his mother who was the organist and it looked like he was going to follow in the family footsteps until he was expelled from the Alabama Theological Seminary in 1911 for playing Ragtime at a church function. Davenport's early career revolved around carnivals and vaudeville. His first break in pursuit of his objective came when he was offered work as a pianist at a club on 18th Street. Unable to read music, he began to compose his own tunes and to improve his keyboard skills, but he could still play in only one key. With a larger repertoire and a sharper technique he now began to tour the mining towns of Alabama playing in the honky-tonks. It was at one of these establishments hat he was heard by Bob Davies, a trained pianist, who ran a touring company called the 'Barkroot Carnival'. Davies invited Davenport to join the show as the pianist. One of the requirements was to accompany the women singers, which necessitated being able ro play in several keys. Davies took Davenport under his wing and began to teach him.

He toured TOBA with an act called Davenport and Company with Blues singer Dora Carr and they recorded together in 1925 and 1926. The act broke up when Carr got married. Davenport didn't cut a 78 record until 1927 although prior to that he made a number of piano rolls between 1925 and 1927 including three versions of "Cow Cow Blues." Cow Cow was desperate for money, so he negotiated with a piano-roll company, called the Vocal Style, to make some piano rolls of his new composition. Neither Mr Miller, the owner, nor any of the musical stores in Cincinnati, where the company was situated, would handle the piano rolls, so Cow Cow traveled from house to house selling them. He managed t o do this successfully o an equal-share basis with the manufacturer until he had repaid the cost of cutting the rolls. As the rolls sold well, Miller included 'Cow Cow Blues' on the company's catalog  of piano rolls. We open our show with one of those rolls, "5th Street Blues", which was made in 1926.

As for Cow Cow's most famous song it came about when Dora left. He was deeply upset by this, so much so that he composed the "Railroad Blues", which finally took form as the "Cow Cow Blues". The new name was said to have been inspired by a section in the music where Charles was trying to use musical imagery to describe the signalman boarding the engine from the front of the train where the cow catcher was situated. During one theater engagement shortly after he had composed the number, and while playing the section, he sang, 'Nobody rocks me like my Papa Cow Cow do.' There was no particular reason why he introduced the expression "cow cow" but the name stuck and thereafter Charles was known to his fellow-pianists and his friends as "Cow Cow" Davenport.

Davenport briefly teamed up with Blues singer Ivy Smith in 1928 and worked as a talent scout for Brunswick and Vocalion records in the late 1920's and played rent parties in Chicago. They formed an act called the Chicago Steppers which lasted for some months and, in 1928, the partnership began to record for the Paramount Company. Among these sides were "Jim Crow Blues", a reflection of Davenport's racist experiences in the South:

I'm tired of being Jim Crowed, gonna Leave this Jim Crow town
Doggone my black soul, I'm sweet Chicago bound

Yes I'm leaving here from this old Jim Crow town
I'm going up North where they say money grows on trees
I don't give a doggone if my black soul is free
I'm going where I don't need no baby

Jimmy Yancey(left) listens to Charlie Spand,
Chicago, 1940's. Photo from A Left Hand Like God.

He moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1930 and toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit and recorded with Sam Price. In 1938 Davenport suffered a stroke that left his right hand somewhat paralyzed and affected his piano playing for the rest of his life, but he remained active as a vocalist until he regained enough strength in his hand to play again. In the early 1940's Cow Cow briefly left the music business and worked as a washroom attendant at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in New York. In 1942 Freddie Slack's Orchestra scored a huge hit with "Cow Cow Boogie" with vocals by seventeen year old Ella Mae Morse which sparked the Boogie-Woogie craze of the early 1940s; this led to a revival of interest in Davenport's music. He tried to make a "comeback" in the forties and fifties but his career was often interrupted by sickness. He died in 1955 of heart problems in Cleveland.

Despite his popularity, Charlie Spand remains a shadowy figure despite numerous attempts to uncover his story. The first factual information about Charlie Spand is his residence in Detroit, Michigan, where he played piano on Hastings and Brady Streets in the Black Bottom, Detroit’s black section. Together with pianists James Hemingway, Hersal Thomas and Will Ezell, Spand formed the boogie nucleus of the city. He likely also performed in Chicago as well during this period.

Spand’s recording career started for Paramount on 6th June, 1929; during the next two years he recorded 24 songs. He cut two titles at this first session: "Soon This Morning Blues" and "Fetch Your Water" with the accompanying guitarist thought to have been Blind Blake. Probably recorded by Paramount on the suggestion of Blake, Spand's first record was a hit. After three records he was considered important enough to be included on the Paramount "sampler" "Home Town Skiffle" alongside such established artists as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Papa Charlie Jackson, the Hokum Boys, Will Ezell and Blind Blake." By 1929 Spand had moved to Chicago, and recorded "45th Street Blues" at Grafton in 1930, the title being an indication of his recent Chicago address. In September 1930 Spand traveled to Grafton to record some more titles for Paramount, six in total. Spand’s last session for the Paramount label was recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin in July 1931, by which time the company was on its last legs.

Nothing much is known about Spand’s activities during the 1930's, although it is rumored that he returned to Detroit. Boogie-woogie was in full swing by the late 1930's. Artists like Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Jimmy Yancey embraced the popularity of boogie-woogie and were subsequently recorded during the 1939-1940 period. Spand may have taken advantage of the revival of interest in piano blues and boogie-woogie. He got the opportunity to do two separate recording sessions for OKeh, on 20th and 27th June, 1940, recording a total of eight songs, including a remake of his "Soon This Morning." No major rediscovery story resulted and no coverage was given on the whereabouts of Spand, in contrast to Lofton and Yancey. After his final 1940 sessions there is concrete information about Spand. Several sources believed that he died in Chicago around 1975.

Regarding his style,  Bob Hall and Richard Noblett write in the Piano Blues vol. 16: "His playing was typical of the Detroit pianists of his day, essentially consisting of two main styles, an insistent rolling-boogie using a walking octave bass in the key of F or occasionally in the key of Bb,and a deliberate, at times almost majestic, barrelhouse style using a stride piano bass …it is however, his lyrics that set Span apart from his contemporaries. Not only have numbers like "Soon This Morning" become blues standards, but we hear in his work very strong indications of the future direction of the music. His songs frequently have a continuity which come from a genuine sense of poetry rather than the mere stringing together of traditional verses. Spand was in fact one of the first real blues song-writers, foreshadowing the work of such 'thirties artists as Leroy Carr."

Cripple Clarence Lofton (left) and Jimmy Yancey,
c. 1950's. Photo from  A Left Hand Like God.

Cripple Clarence Lofton was born as Albert Clemens in Tennessee in 1887, although he is most closely associated with his adopted hometown of Chicago, where he was a popular entertainer noted for his energetic performing style that, in addition to piano playing and singing, included tap dancing, whistling, and finger-snapping.A description of Lofton is provided in an excerpt from Boogie Woogie by William Russell:

"No one can complain of Clarence's lack of variety or versatility. When he really gets going he's a three-ring circus. During one number, he plays, sings, whistles a chorus, and snaps his fingers with the technique of a Spanish dancer to give further percussive accompaniment to his blues. At times he turns sideways, almost with his back to the piano as he keeps pounding away at the keyboard and stomping his feet, meanwhile continuing to sing and shout at his audience or his drummer. Suddenly in the middle of a number he jumps up, his hands clasped in front of him, and walks around the piano stool, and then, unexpectedly, out booms a vocal break in a bass voice from somewhere. One second later, he has turned and is back at the keyboard, both hands flying at lightning- like pace. His actions and facial expressions are as intensely dramatic and exciting as his music."

Owing his nickname to a limp from which he suffered, he became a favorite of early jazz collectors during the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930's along with Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, and many others. Born in Tennessee he lived most of his life in Chicago becoming a fixture on the Chicago nightlife scene. He owned his own nightclub called the Big Apple where he ran his own boogie school teaching youngsters the art form. Between 1935 and 1943 he cut close to forty sides for Vocalion, Swaggie, Solo Art and Session including exuberant pieces such as “Brown Skin Girls,” “Policy Blues,” “Streamline Train,” and “I Don’t Know,” the latter a number one R&B hit for Willie Mabon in 1952. The bulk of these were solo sides with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy adding support for two sessions. In addition Lofton provided accompaniment to Red Nelson, Sammy Brown, Al Miller and Jimmy Yancey. Lofton remained on the scene cutting sides for the Gennett, Vocalion, Solo Art, Riverside, Session and Pax labels. He stayed around Chicago until his death in 1957 from a blood clot in the brain.

As for his playing style, Peter Silvester writes:  "Lofton was an eclectic performer who played in two keys, C and G. While his pounding style and interpretation were his own he obtained inspiration from the themes of other pianists. His most compelling composition, 'Streamline Train', was inspired by 'Cow Cow Blues', while 'Pinetop's Boogie-woogie' was transformed into a very powerful and almost unrecognizable number. He was an undisciplined pianist and would often begin playing a new chorus before he had fully completed the one he was playing. The twelve-bar pattern would sometimes be reduced to ten, as was the case in 'I Don't Know' or eleven and a half bars, as in some interpretations of 'Streamline Train'. What he lacked in discipline, however, he more than made up for with vivacity and exuberance. I n some respects he can be compared to players like Jimmy Yancey and Montana Taylor, because their playing was untouched by time and their recordings reflected accurately the closed community of the rent party. None of them was required to perform relentlessly for the public, as Johnson, Ammons and Lewis were obliged to do when they became commercially popular. Lofton remained untouched by commercialism to the end."

As Bob Hall and Richard Noblett write in the Piano Blues vol. 6: "In the annals of the blues there are many artists who have made outstanding contributions to the music, but whose personal lives remain a mystery. Just such a man is Walter Roland, who during the Depression, recorded over ninety issued sides for ARC as a soloist and accompanist."As for his style and influence, they write: "…There is no doubt that Roland was a major and highly influential figure in his time, and his recorded output contains compositions which have become part of the repertoire of a host of younger musicians. …He was a highly accomplished pianist capable of playing in two distinct styles. The first employed a simple rolling boogie woogie bass, most often in the key of F, played in a variety of tempos. The second, less common barrelhouse style employed a stride piano bass of alternating octaves and chords, usually in the key of E. Throughout Roland's work certain distinctive treble phrases emerge, and particularly striking is his use of repeated single note staccato triplets, foreshadowing the use of the same device by the post-war Chicago pianists."

Roland was born at Ralph, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama on 20 December 1902 (according to his Social Security documents) or 4 December 1903 (according to his death certificate). Roland was one of the most technically proficient of all blues pianists, and in addition he displayed considerable feeling in his playing and singing. He was also an able guitarist, and recorded several titles backing his own vocals and those of others, playing guitar. Roland was said to have been based in the 1920's or 1930's around Pratt City, near Birmingham, Alabama.

Walter Roland

Although his recording career began in 1933, it is evident that Walter was already an accomplished musician with a fully formed style. Roland partnered Lucille Bogan when they recorded for the A R C labels between 1933 and 1935, in the course of which, he recorded in his own right. Walter's first disc, "Red Cross Blues" has since become a blues standard, versions having been recorded by Sonny Scott, Sonny Boy Williamson, Champion Jack Dupree, Robert McCoy, Forest City Joe, and many others. In 1933, he was recorded at New York City for the American Record Company, and he had apparently traveled to the session with Lucille Bogan and guitarist Sonny Scott. His best-selling recording was "Early This Morning", a reworking of an earlier Paramount recording by Charlie Spand, "Soon This Morning", but Walter was successful enough to continue recording until 1935.

At some later time, possibly as late as 1950, Walter became a farmer. Roland was reputedly playing guitar as a street singer in the 1960's. As well as Birmingham, he worked around Dolomite and the Interurban Heights, around Brighton and elsewhere. In about the late 1960's, Walter was trying to be a peacemaker in a domestic argument between a neighboring husband and wife and one of the disputing parties fired a shotgun, with the result that Walter was blinded by buckshot. By 1968, Walter had retired from music because of his blindness, and was cared for by his daughters at Fairfield, near Miles College. In 1968, he applied for an old age pension. He died there of bronchogenic carcinoma on 12 October 1972.

Related Articles:

-Charlie Spand – Back To The Woods by Alex van der Tuuk (Blues & Rhythm No. 217, 2007) (PDF)

-Cripple Clarence Lofton In Memoriam by Albert J. McCarthy (Jazz Monthly, November 1957 p. 31-32) (PDF)

-Walter Roland Blazed Through Music World Then Faded by Ben Windham (Tuscaloosa News Feb 27, 2000) (PDF)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 6: Walter Roland 1933-1935 (JPG)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 9: Lofton/Noble 1935-1936 (JPG)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 16: Charlie Spand 192-1931 (JPG)

Henry ThomasRun, Mollie, RunTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasOld Country StompTexas Worried Blues
Gus Cannon My Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You
William Moore Ragtime MillionaireBroadcasting The Blues
Luke Jordan Pick Poor Robin CleanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Texas Alexander Levee Camp MoanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Andrew & Jim Baxter Bamalong BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Bogus Ben Covington Adam And Eve In The GardenAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924 - 1949
Frank Stokes Chicken You Can Roost Behind The MoonBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Frank Stokes I Got MineThe Best of Frank Stokes
Peg Leg Howell Beaver Slide RagViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Henry Williams & Eddie Anthony Georgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah The SpasmGood For What Ails You
Bo Chatman Good Old Turnip Greens Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Beans Hambone & El Morrow BeansGood For What Ails You
Cannon's Jug Stompers Feather BedBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jim Jackson I Heard the Voice of a PorkchopGood For What Ails You
Jim Jackson Bye, Bye, PolicemanGood For What Ails You
Richard ''Rabbit'' Brown Never Let The Same Bee Sting You TwiceNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull Hey! Lawdy Mama -The France BluesNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley Gonna Tip Out, TonightGood For What Ails You
Mississippi John Hurt Stack O'Lee Blues Avalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Spike Driver’s BluesAvalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Furry Lewis Kassie JonesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Joe Evans & Arthur McClain John HenryBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Alec Johnson Next Week SometimeMississippi Strings Bands & Associates
Hambone Willie Newbern Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Stovepipe #1 & David Crockett A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy AroundGood For What Ails You
Crying Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Charlie Patton Elder GreenScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Mississippi Sheiks He’s In The Jailhouse Now Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 2 1930-1931
Blind Blake Champaign Charlie Is My Name The Best of Blind Blake
Hezekiah Jenkins Shout, You CatsGood For What Ails You

Show Notes:

The blues emerged around  1900, rapidly became very popular and was widespread by the teens. When recording started, there were still musicians around who performed material from the older traditions – men generally called songsters. Originally a 'songster' was a songbook but the term was adapted by African-Americans to mean a singer, as Howard Odum noted in  1911: "In general 'songster' is used to denote any Negro who regularly sings or makes songs: 'musicianer' applies often to the individual who claims to be expert with the banjo or fiddle." In the 1920's and 30's when black music first came on record blues scholar Paul Oliver noted that "for a dozen years a remarkable documentation of black vocal traditions was purchasable on commercial releases. …The diversity of singers, entertainers, jazz bands, preachers and other black artists represented on these records was remarkable.” Prior to the blues, reaching back to the nineteenth century there was a variety of black music before it got on record; there was ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes, medicine show entertainers, sheet music that found its way into black music and emphasis on banjo and fiddle music among other types. Songs were spread by traveling songsters, black road troupes, minstrel shows, tent shows and medicine shows. Although this music was not captured on record when it was in vogue many of these forms found their way onto records when blues was being recorded. Older musicians, born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's. Some of it was shaped to fit the blues, the popular music of the day, while other songs remain more or less intact as performed by blacks decades prior. This was the  music of men like Henry Thomas, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Daddy Stovepipe, Papa Charlie Jackson, the music of the jug and string bands and the music of the songsters and ballad singers. The records these men, and to a lesser extent women, recorded gives us a fascinating glimpse of the era before the rise of the blues. These older styles didn't disappear but remained parallel to the blues. An example of this is that as late as the mid-1910s the term "up-to-date coon shouter" was routinely applied to the likes of Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith; but around 1916 they were redefined as "blues singers." Eventually these older styles were eclipsed by the popularity of blues although these older styles were still being performed in black communities into the 60's, 70's and beyond.

I've long been fascinated by this, for lack of a better term, pre-blues material and today's program will be the first installment of a multi-part feature. I'm far from an expert on the black musical styles before the blues but luckily I was able to draw on some excellent books, several of which have been published in recent years. In addition to these books, I finally got around to reading Paul Oliver's excellent Songsters And Saints published in 1984 and a valuable resource for today's program. Since then several superb books have been published; Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs", and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 and Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920. In addition there are several fine anthologies of pre-blues recordings. Among those featured today are Before The Blues Vol. 1-3 on Yazoo, Document's 3-CD set Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice: Blues, Ballads, Rags And Gospel In The Songster Tradition plus several on Old Hat including the 2-CD Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937, Folks He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!: Vintage Fiddle Music 1927-1935 and Violin, Sing The Blues For Me: African-American Fiddlers, 1926-1949. Below is some background on some today's artists and songs.

Henry Thomas, billed as "Ragtime Texas", was born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, and began his musical career as an itinerant songster, and recorded twenty-three songs from 1927 to 1929. He accompanied himself with the guitar and the quills, a folk instrument made from cane reeds. “Flailing his guitar”, Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.”

The song "Pick Poor Robin Clean" has shadowy origins but it likely dates to the turn of the century. The song was picked up by songster Luke Jordan who recorded the number in 1927. The song was also recorded by Elvie Thomas & Geechie Wiley in 1931. Jordan was born January 28, 1892 , possibly either Appomattox or Campbell county, Virginia he died June 25, 1952, Lynchburg, Virginia. The blues scene in pre-war Virginia was poorly documented at the time and few of its members managed to record. Post-war research by Bruce Bastin reveals that Jordan was a key figure in the blues enclave centered around Lynchburg. Victor Records discovered him in 1927 and he recorded for them in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August of that year. Jordan's records sold well enough to justify transporting him to New York for a further two sessions in November 1929.

Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Shieks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Shieks. By most accounts Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor. Of today's featured songs, “I Got Mine” was published by a white composer in 1901 and taken up by black songsters while “Chicken You Can Roost Behind The Moon” has its roots in a song published in 1899. “Chicken” was a Coon song, a genre of music popular primarily in the 1880’s and 1890’s, that presented a racist and stereotyped image of blacks that were sung by both whites and blacks.

”My Money Never Runs Out” also has roots from the turn of the century and was composed by Irving Jones and published in 1900. Jones published songs as early as 1892, several of which found their way onto race records in the 1920’s. Today we hear the song as performed by Gus Cannon who recorded the song thirty years later with his band Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later joked that Stokey's tonic sold "one bottle for a quarter, or three for a dollar!" A tour with  Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, where he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake. ”My Money Never Runs Out” was advertised, with a short extract on the back cover by another piece by Irving Jones called “Ragtime Millionaire.” The song may be one of the earliest to make reference to the blues. We hear the song today as recorded by William Moore who recorded the number for Paramount in 1928. A resident of Tappahannock, Virginia, Moore recorded sixteen sides for Paramount in 1928.

Peg Leg Howell was born in 1888, arrived in Atlanta in 1923 and was recorded by Columbia in November 1926. The first session featured Howell solo and are certainly appealing but it’s the rough, exciting stringband music he recorded with His Gang that really grabs attention. The gang consisted of Henry Williams on guitar and the infectious alley fiddle of Eddie Anthony. Williams and Anthony recorded together without Howell on “Georgia Crawl” b/w “Lonesome Blues” on April 19, 1928. Unfortunately the trio only made a handful of recordings as Williams apparently died in jail in January 1930 while serving time for vagrancy and Anthony passed in 1934, after which Howell gave up music. Many of Howell’s blues verses date to shortly after the turn of the century. “Georgia Crawl” may be related to a song published in 1913 as the 'Georgia Grind", a later done by pianist Jimmy Blythe with the song picked up by several bands and singers including Duke Ellington's Washingtonians and Louis Armstrong. It's impossible to say where the duo picked up the tune.

Pink Anderson spent many years on the road with medicine shows and learned guitar from his early partner Simmie Dooley, and older musician who was born in 1881. They recorded four titles together in 1928. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast with a variety of medicine shows during 1915-1945, picking up work wherever he could. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson was extensively recorded by Sam Charters in 1961 resulting in three albums of material. From the notes to the compilation Good For What Ails You, Marshall Wyatt gives us some background on the medicine show: " Medicine shows flourished in the years following the Civil War when America's patent medicine industry was booming, and governmental regulations were few. Often called "med shows" for short, or simply "doctor shows," they were also extolled as "psysic operas" and their route was known as the "kerosene circuit" for the fuel that illuminated their stages at night. Whatever the name, music was always a crucial ingredient. Onstage, musicians served up a variety of comic songs, parodies, popular favorites, novelties, folk songs, dance tunes, and instrumental specialties. In the early decades of the 20th century, new musical forms, such as as jazz and blues, were added to the mix. …Such noted bluesmen as Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Terry, and Big Joe Williams spent time with the med shows, as did a whole constellation of Memphis singers and jug-band musicians, including Will Shade, Jim Jackson, and Frank Stokes.

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was an experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. The Mississippi born Jackson had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.”  His recordings represent one of the richest veins of pre-blues music to be issued on record. Among these are songs like “I’m A  Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894 and “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901. Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. "Bye, Bye Policeman" quotes the chorus of Ernest Hogan's "La Pas Ma La", published in 1895.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit"  Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain.  Our selection, “Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice” was based on a song published in 1900. On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and "event" songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic."

Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893, John Hurt moved to the town if Avalon at the age of two which remained his home for the rest of his life. Hurt cut two sessions in 1928 for the Okeh label and would not record again until 1963. Hurt’s repertoire includes blues from when he was growing up as well as ballads like “Stack O’ Lee” and  “Spike Driver Blues”, which references John Henry, and “Louis Collins” and “Frankie.”

Furry Lewis was a Memphis singer who was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1893. He joined Jim Jackson on a medicine show as early as 1906 and worked such shows regularly for the next fifteen years. Prior to honing his musical skills he worked the shows as a comedian, sold corn medicine and liniment oils, or did vaudeville sketches, often in blackface. In 1927, Lewis made two trips to Chicago alongside his old friend Jim Jackson, with the purpose of cutting records for Vocalion. The sessions produced five sides in April and another six later in October of that year. Over the next two years, a total of 23 sides in all were recorded by Lewis for both the Vocalion and Victor labels.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Daddy Stovepipe, Gennett Records Studio, 1924
Photograph From Talking Machine World

Hambone Willie Newbern had just one session, in Atlanta in 1929, at which he immortalized himself by making the first recording of "Roll And Tumble Blues". He was born about 1899, so John Estes, to whom Newbern gave some guitar tips believed. They met in Mississippi, working on medicine shows, and songs like "She Could Toodle.Oo", "Way Down In Arkansas" and "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)" come from that background. Newbern was also capable of writing very personal blues like "Dreamy·Eyed Woman", and "Shelby County Workhouse Blues."

Crying Sam Collins was born in 1887, his stomping ground the Mississippi-Louisiana border region with a style similar to King Solomon Hill and Ramblin Thomas who were from the same region. Collins’ music draws from the era of minstrel and medicine show tradition reflected in songs like ‘Yellow Dog Blues”, “Salty Dog”, “Hesitation Blue’ and the first recorded version of “The Midnight Special.” His masterpieces, “Lonesome Road Blues” was a version of “In The Pines” which dates back to the 1870’s, and “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” which is a version of ”Long Gone.”

Born in 1891, Charlie Patton was older than the other Delta musicians who recorded during the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, and he seems to have developed many of the themes that are now considered basic to the Delta blues repertoire. Remembered by history as a blues musician, Patton had grown up in the pre-blues era, and he played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and pre-blues music like “Runnin’ Wild Blues”, "Elder Greene" and “Prayer Of Death.”

Alec Johnson and Ben Covington were two other artists who's repertoire drew on a pre-blues song book. While nothing is know of Johnson’s background, the six sides he cut in 1928 strongly reflect the minstrel and coons songs just before the turn of the century; songs like “Next Week Sometime” which was published in 1905 while “Mysterious Coon” harks back to an even earlier period. Covington worked in minstrel shows and earned his name for pretending to be blind to help him earn extra money. According to bluesman Big Joe Williams, Covington toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, as well as various medicine shows and carnivals, and even worked as a sideshow attraction known as "The Human Pretzel." He recorded about a dozen sides between 1928 and 1932,  playing harmonica, banjo and mandolin.

Mississippi John Hurt Avalon Blues The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied) The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Richland Woman Blues Live!
Mississippi John Hurt Monday Morning Blues Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.2
Bukka White Sic 'Em Dogs On The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Aberdeen Mississippi Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Poor Boy Long Ways From Home Legacy of the Blues
Bukka White Sad Day Blues Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. 2
Bukka White Alabama Blues Sky Songs
Furry Lewis Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Big Chief Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis The Medicine Shows Furry Lewis
Furry Lewis Pearlee Blues Furry Lewis
Joe Callicott Fare Thee Well Blues Mississippi Masters
Joe Callicott Traveling Mama Blues Broke, Black And Blue
Joe Callicott Laughing To Keep From Crying Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Joe Callicott Let Your Deal Go Down Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Mississippi John Hurt Louis Collins The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Ain't No Tellin' The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Trouble All My Day Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.1
Mississippi John Hurt Make Me A Pallet The Best Of Mississippi John Hurt
Bukka White Parchman Farm Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Bukka's Jitterbug Swing The Vintage Recordings
Furry Lewis Kasie Jones Pt. 1Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Judge Harsh Blues Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Good Morning Judge Good Morning Judge
Furry Lewis Going Away Blues Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis
Robert Wilkins Police Sergeant BluesMasters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Falling Down Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Prodigal Son Memphis Gospel Singer

Show Notes:

Around 1960 a considerable interest for all folk sources for American music evolved among students in the Northeast, and soon spread to the whole country. While the blues revival is almost always tied to the 1960's it should be noted that white appreciation of the blues, or at least the folksier aspect of blues goes back further with considerable interest generated by Leadbelly in the late 30’s and 40's who attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados mostly in New York City. Josh White and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee were also part of this scene and played alongside Woody Guthrie and a young Pete Seeger. At the start of the 1950's, Bill Broonzy became part of a touring folk music revue formed by Win Stracke called I Come for to Sing, which also included Studs Terkel and Lawrence Lane. Terkel called him the key figure in this group. The group had some success thanks to the emerging folk revival movement. The exposure made it possible for Broonzy to tour Europe in 1951 where Broonzy was greeted with standing ovations and critical praise wherever he played. The tour marked a turning point in his fortunes, and when he returned to the United States he was a featured act with many prominent folk artists such as Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Leadbelly. In addition to Broonzy, who made many folk oriented record in the 50's, pre-war artists like Pink Anderson, J.D. Short, Rev. Gary Davis and Scrapper Blackwell among others were also recorded by the end of the 50's.

The blues revival doesn't refer to the rebirth of the music, the blues never went away, and certainly the electric brand of blues was still popular in urban centers like Chicago, but a new found interest in the music among young white listeners. In a addition there was a small band of enthusiasts who began to collect what information they could on the blues artists of the past. Writers like Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver wrote serious studies of the blues while other like Chris Strachwitz and John Fahey formed labels and tracked down these older blues artists. Many of these men would double as writers, producers, promoters and managers fueled by their passion for the music. At first limited to the traditional repertoire of American folk songs such as those gathered in the review Sing Out and expressing itself as the Newport Folk Festival, this movement soon became interested in other sources such as bluegrass, ragtime, and the blues, specifically acoustic country blues, which lost popularity after WW II.

The acoustic blues revival allowed numerous artists rediscovered on that occasion to begin a new career, in particular some blues giants of the 20's and 30's like Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Rev. Gary Davis and too a lesser extent artists like Robert Wilkins and Joe Callicott. Other bluesmen whose careers were at a standstill, due to waning interest among black audiences, adapted their style to the times, including artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Williams, Memphis Slim,  Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and even Muddy Waters for a brief spell. In addition several down-home artists who had not previously recorded were brought to light, most importantly Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams.  Several record companies sprang up to document the music, most importantly Prestige/Bluesville that released around a hundred albums between 1960 and 1964. Other labels included Arhoolie, Testament and Piedmont among others. The blues revival spread to Europe, most notably in the form of the American Folk Blues Festival, a remarkable traveling caravan that toured Europe through the 60's and beyond.  Although it should be noted that Muddy Waters had toured England in 1958 and Big Bill Broonzy had toured Europe starting as far back as 1951. By the mid-60's the blues revival began to encompass electric blues and labels like Delmark and Vanguard issued acclaimed records by several artists. Today's show, however, focuses on the early, still acoustic focused part of the blues revival and with all today's featured artists having recorded in the pre-war era. In part one we spotlight well known artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Furry Lewis plus fine artists who  a lower profile during the revival like Joe Callicott and Robert Wilkins.

Mississippi John Hurt grew up in the Mississippi hill country town of Avalon, population under 100, north of Greenwood, near Grenada. He began playing guitar in 1903, and within a few years was performing at parties, doing ragtime repertory rather than blues. In the early '20s, he teamed up with white fiddle player Willie Narmour, playing square dances. Hurt was spotted by a scout for Okeh Records who passed through Avalon in 1927, who was supposed to record Narmour, and was signed to record after a quick audition. Of the eight sides that Hurt recorded in Memphis in February of 1928, only two were ever released, but he was still asked to record in New York late in 1928. Mississippi John Hurt might've lived and died in obscurity, if it hadn't been for the folk music revival of the late '50s and early '60s. A scholar named Tom Hoskins discovered that Mississippi John Hurt, who hadn't been heard from musically in over 35 years, was alive and living in Avalon, MS, and sought him out, following the trail laid down in Hurt's song "Avalon Blues." After his rediscovery a series of concerts were arranged, including an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was greeted as a living legend. A tour of American universities followed as did a series of recordings: first in a relatively informal, non-commercial setting intended to capture him in his most comfortable and natural surroundings, and later under the auspices of Vanguard Records. Hurt took the opportunity, playing concerts and making new records of old songs as well as material he'd never before laid down. Vanguard got out a new album, Today!, in 1966, from his first sessions for the label. Additionally, the tape of a concert that Hurt played at Oberlin College in April of 1965 was released under the title The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. Hurt got in one more full album, The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt, released posthumously, and a record assembled from his final sessions, Last Sessions, also issued after his death. In addition Hurt was extensively recorded for the Library of Congress in 1963. These recordings have been issued by Fuel 200 on two double CD sets: D.C. Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1 & 2.

In the notes to Bukka White – The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940, Keith Briggs writes that Bukka's "recordings made between 1930 and 1940 are among the most creative and dynamic blues ever recorded. These early sessions have always been revered as being among the finest in blues history with his last recording date being referred to as the last great pre-war country blues recording session. Booker’s unique sound was a combination of solid, rocking, rhythms interspersed with vigorous guitar breaks, his ability as a bottleneck slide guitarist and his gritty, heavy voice. He favoured the steel bodied National guitar as it’s volume allowed him to be audible over the noise of a good-time crowd. His songs were almost always personal and are among the most creative and descriptive to found on blues records."

In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. As the Depression set in, opportunity to record didn't knock again for Bukka White until 1937, when Big Bill Broonzy asked him to come to Chicago and record for Lester Melrose. By this time, Bukka White had gotten into some trouble — he later claimed he and a friend had been "ambushed" by a man along a highway, and White shot the man in the thigh in self defense. While awaiting trial, White jumped bail and headed for Chicago, making two sides before being apprehended and sent back to Mississippi to do a three-year stretch at Parchman Farm. While he was serving time, White's record "Shake 'Em on Down" became a hit. It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After earning his release from Parchman Farm in 1940, he returned to Chicago with 12 newly minted songs to record for Lester Melrose. These became the backbone of his lifelong repertoire, and the Melrose  session today is regarded as the pinnacle of Bukka White's achievements on record. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues" Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues."These would be his last recordings for nearly a quarter century.

Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson addressed a letter in 1963 to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis. Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with Fahey and Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. White wrote a new song celebrating his good fortune entitled "1963 Isn't 1962 Blues” and swiftly recorded material for Fahey's Takoma label (Mississippi Blues) and sessions for Arhoolie (Sky Songs Vol. 1 & 2). He thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s. Big Daddy, was his final record cut for the Biograph label in 1974. He passed in 1977.

Walter "Furry" Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS, sometime between 1893 and 1900 — the exact year is in dispute, as Lewis altered this more than once. The Lewis family moved to Memphis when he was seven years old, and Lewis made his home there for the remainder of his life. Lewis' real musical start took place on Beale Street in the late teens, where he began his career. He also began playing traveling medicine shows during this period. Lewis' recording career began in April 1927, with a trip to Chicago with fellow guitarist Landers Walton to record for the Vocalion label, which resulted in five songs, also featuring mandolin player Charles Jackson on three of the numbers. In October of 1927, Lewis was back in Chicago to cut six more songs, this time with nothing but his voice and his own guitar. He made a lengthy session in 1928 and cut few final songs in 1929. Lewis gave up music as a profession during the mid-'30s, when the Depression reduced the market for country-blues.

Fortunately, Furry found work as a municipal laborer in Memphis during the '20s, and continued in this capacity right into the '60s. In the intervening years, he played for friends and relatives, living in obscurity. At the end of the '50s, however, folksong/blues scholar Sam Charters discovered Lewis and persuaded him to resume his music career. He first recorded Lewis for Folkways in 1959 on a self-titled album. Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction and cut two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville labels in 1961. Gradually, as the '60s and the ensuing blues boom wore on, Lewis emerged as one of the favorite rediscovered stars from the '30s, playing festivals, appearing on talk shows, and being interviewed. Furry Lewis became a blues celebrity during the '70s, following a profile in Playboy magazine and appearances on The Tonight Show, and managed a few film and television appearances. Lewis recorded extensively in the 50’s and 70’s, often in informal settings, with albums issued on Blue Horizon, Adelphi, Southland and with several posthumous recordings issued. Lewis died in Memphis in 1981.

Joe Callicott waxed a lone 78 in Memphis in 1929, “Fare Thee Well Blues b/w Traveling Mama Blues”, and a year later played second guitar on Garfield Akers’ “Cottonfield Blues Parts 1 & 2.” It was field recorder George Mitchell who found Callicott in Nesbit, Mississippi off Highway 51 not far from Hernando and short distance from Brights where Garfield Akers was supposedly born. Callicott’s “comeback” was about as short as his first recording career, lasting from the summer of 1967 through the summer of 1968; he recorded nineteen sides for Mitchell either late August or early September, four sides at the 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival and seventeen sides for Blue Horizon in 1968. As Paul Oliver wrote: “A wider recognition came almost too late but Joe appeared at the 1968 Memphis Blues Festival and was looking forward to a European trip. Back at his home, with the birds whistling and witnessed by his wife and their bellcow, he recorded his last testament; he died early in 1969 and with him went the last echoes of Mississippi country music of the earliest phase of the blues.”

Robert Wilkins was born in Hernando, a small town in northern Mississippi, which nonetheless managed to contribute such musicians as Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson, Garfield Akers and Joe Callicott to the story of the Blues. Wilkins worked in Memphis during the Roaring Twenties, sharing billing with Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie (whom he claimed to have tutored), Son House, and other musicians for local shows. He also organized a jug band to capitalize on the "jug band craze" then in vogue. His first sessions for the Victor label in 1928 yielded the droning, one-chord "Rolling Stone," whose title, if not structure, later inspired Muddy Waters. In September 1929, Wilkins recorded for the Brunswick label in Memphis's Peabody Hotel, where he waxed the notable "That's No Way To Get Along," a song he would record later as "The Prodigal Son." The recording industry was hit hard by the Great Depression and as sales slackened, so did recording opportunities. Wilkins continued to play Memphis during the early 1930s, with occasional stints in the medicine show wagon and an informal appearance at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. In 1935, he was offered an opportunity to record for the Vocalion label in Jackson, Mississippi, with Little Son Joe and "Kid Spoons." The output was a varied collection of song styles, including "Old Jim Canan's," a celebration of the gambling parlor formerly located at 340 Beale Street.

Wilkins quit music in 1936 and in 1950 became a minister in the Church of God in Christ. He was rediscovered in 1964, made a few recordings on scattered anthologies and played the festival circuit for the spell but stuck strictly to spiritual music. In 1964 he cut his lone album, the classic Memphis Gospel Singer, which has yet to be issued on CD. Wilkins passed in 1987.

Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell How Long, How Long Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Prison Bound Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Baby Don't You Leave Me No More Sloppy Drunk
Scrapper Blackwell Penal Farm Blues The Virtuoso Guitar Of
Scrapper Blackwell Kokomo Blues The virtuoso Guitar Of
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Tired Of Your Low Down Ways Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Straight Alky Blues Part 1 Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Naptown Blues Sloppy Drunk
Scrapper Blackwell Down And Out Blues Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 1 1928-1932
Scrapper Blackwell Blue Day Blues The virtuoso Guitar Of
Scrapper Blackwell Back Door Blues The virtuoso Guitar Of
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Long Road Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Alabama Women Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Memphis Town Sloppy Drunk
Georgia Tom & Scrapper Blackwell Gee, But It's Hard Georgia Tom Vol. 2 1930-1934
Bumble Bee Slim & Scrapper Blackwell You Gotta Change Your Way Bumble Bee Slim Vol. 3 1934-1935
Scrapper Blackwell No Good Woman Blues Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 3 1959-1960
Scrapper Blackwell Nobody Knows When You're Down And OutMr. Scrapper's Blues
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Sloppy DrunkWhiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Papa's On The House Top Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Gone Mother Blues Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Midnight Hour Blues Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell
Blues Before Sunrise Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Mean Mistreater Mama Whiskey Is My Habit, Women Is All I Crave
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell I Ain’t Got No Money Now Sloppy Drunk
Scrapper Blackwell Blues Before Sunrise Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Scrapper Blackwell Little Boy Blue Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell I Believe I'll Make a Change Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Barrelhouse Woman Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell When The Sun Goes Down Sloppy Drunk
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell Big Four Blues The Piano Blues Vol. 7: Leroy Carr 1930-1935
Leroy Carr Just A RagSloppy Drunk
Bill Gaither After The Sun's Gone Down Bill Gaither Vol. 1 1935-1936
Scrapper Blackwell My Old Pal Blues (Dedicated To The Memory Of Leroy Carr) Scrapper Blackwell Vol. 2 1934-1958

Show Notes:

Today's program spotlights the remarkable recordings of pianist Leroy Carr and his brilliant foil, guitarist Scrapper Blackwell. Between 1928 and 1935 the duo cut a remarkably consistent body of work of hundreds of sides notable for the impeccable guitar/piano interplay, Carr's profoundly expressive, melancholy vocals and some terrific songs. While it's impossible to do justice to to these recordings in the short space we have, I've tried to carefully choose some of the highlights and perhaps some less celebrated numbers. In addition we hear several sides under Blackwell's name, both pre-war and post-war, with a couple of numbers finding him superbly backing other artists.

A note on the recordings: There are no shortage of Leroy Carr collections on the market and I've tried to select the best sounding tracks for today's show. For my money the 2-CD Sloppy Drunk on Catfsh, carefully mastered from the original 78's, has the best overall sound. Runner up goes to Columbia's the 2-CD Whiskey Is My Habit Women Is All I Crave: Best of. The bulk of the recordings come from these collections. The early Blackwell sides come from the Yazoo album The Virtuoso Guitar Of and from two volumes on Document.

Teamed with the exemplary guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis, Leroy Carr became one of the biggest blues stars of his day, composing and recording almost 200 sides during his short lifetime. His blues were expressive and evocative, recorded only with piano and guitar, yet as author Sam Charters has noted, Carr was "a city man" whose singing was never as rough or intense as that of the country bluesmen, and as reissue producer and collector Francis Smith put it, "He, perhaps more than any other single artist, was responsible for transforming the rural blues patterns of the '20s into the more city-oriented blues of the '30's." Carr met guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis in 1928 and the duo began performing together. Shortly afterward they were recording for Vocalion, releasing "How Long How Long Blues" before the year was finished. The song was an instant, surprise hit. For the next seven years, Carr and Blackwell would record a number of classic songs for Vocalion, including "Midnight Hour Blues," "Blues Before Sunrise," "Hurry Down Sunshine," "When The Sun Goes Down," and many others.

Writer Elijah Wald wrote the following about Carr: “Carr was the most influential male blues singer and songwriter of the first half of the 20th century, but he was nothing like the current stereotype of an early bluesman. An understated pianist with a gentle, expressive voice, he was known for his natty suits and lived most of his life in Indianapolis. His first record, "How Long — How Long Blues," in 1928, had an effect as revolutionary as Bing Crosby's pop crooning, and for similar reasons. Previous blues stars, whether vaudevillians like Bessie Smith or street singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson, had needed huge voices to project their music, but with the help of new microphone and recording technologies, Carr sounded like a cool city dude carrying on a conversation with a few close friends. …Carr sang over the solid beat of his piano and the biting guitar of his constant partner Francis (Scrapper) Blackwell. The outcome was a hip, urban club style that signaled a new era in popular music.”

Chicago Defender Ad, February 22, 1930

Carr was born in Nashville, Tennessee  in either 1899 or 1905. As a teenager he spent time with a traveling circus, and, having lied about his age, a short stint in the army. He settled in Indianapolis during the mid-to-late 20's when he began playing the club and theater circuit. Blackwell, its been written, was born in Syracuse, North Carolina (a search for this reveals no evidence of this town) in 1903 and moved with his family to Indianapolis. He was a self-taught guitarist from a large musical family but devoted much of his energies to his bootlegging business. When asked iIn a latter day interview who played in his family, Blackwell noted: “Everybody. My sister plays, my brother-in-law plays. My brother plays now, Hawaiian. And my father was a lead violinist. I got a brother a drummer. And another one a singer. “

Blackwell had met with an English entrepreneur and storeowner simply remembered as Mr Guernsey. Guernsey was eager to break into the record business and, having heard both musicians, arranged for Blackwell and Carr to meet. From that first encounter in 1928, Guernsey was so impressed with this musical partnership that he suggested that he take the pair to Chicago to "make a record".  Blackwell refused to travel and a makeshift studio was set up in Indianapolis. Using the local W.F.B.M. radio station as a studio, the record company cut two titles including "How Long – How Long Blues" which became one of the biggest selling blues records of all time.  As Paul Oliver noted: “together they made an incomparable team, with a driving movement and lilting swing which was extremely infectious. Neither was at his best alone; it was their perfect timing and effortless mutual support which made them.” As for the songs, Oliver notes, “they were carefully composed and far from causally planned but they had a rare and simple poetry.”

Gaining fame far beyond Indiana, Carr and Blackwell appeared in various cities. They played a succession of clubs in St. Louis and appeared at the Booker T. Washington Theater. The year 1932 saw them both penetrating the Deep South and making a trip to New York City to record a fresh set of sides for Vocalion. By the time of their final session together in February 1935, Carr's drinking was said to have made him practically unmanageable. Their association with Vocalion had finished and, probably at the instigation of Tampa Red, they had moved to the Bluebird label. Although Blackwell was present for these last recordings, there were disagreements over a new contract and after the first four numbers the two separated, leaving Carr to finish the session in a solo capacity. Carr was in brilliant form on this session cutting top drawer sides like “Ain't It A Shame”, “ When The Sun Goes Down”, “Big Four Blues” and the exuberant “Just A Rag” showcasing Carr's piano work as it had rarely been heard before. Unfortunately he sunk deeper and deeper into alcoholism which eventually cut his life short – he died in April 1935 just after his 30th birthday.

In addition to several tracks from his final session, we feature tracks from all the other years he recorded. 1933 was the only year Carr did not make records. We open the show with his iconic smash "How Long – How Long Blues" and from the same year spin moving "Prison Bound", the bouncy "Baby Don't You Love Me No More" which owes perhaps more to the popular music of the day than blues, the harrowingly prophetic  "Straight Alky Blues Pt. 1" ('This alcohol is killing me/The doctor said if I don't quit it in a lonely graveyard I will be") and the buoyant "Naptown Blues" as Carr sings joyously about his hometown. Carr and Scrapper cut two lengthy sessions in 1930 resulting in some terrific material including the classic "Sloppy Drunk Blues", the lovely "Long Road Blues", "Low Down Dog Blues", which became a signature number of Big Joe Turner's and one of my favorite Carr numbers, the gorgeous, wistful slow blues of "Alabama Women Blues."

Unlike many artists, Carr continued to record steadily through the depression including two sessions the moving "Gone Mother Blues" and beautiful "Midnight Hour Blues" one of Carr's mot poignant performances, a masterpiece of mood and shadings. Carr stayed out of the studio in 1933 but came roaring back in 1934, waxing 36 issued sides including "Mean Mistreater Mama", "Shady Lane Blues" and "Blues Before Sunrise", all songs that would be revived by a variety of artists in the post-war era. As also, Scrapper makes his presence known particularity on "Barrel House Woman", "I Believe I'll Make A Change" and "Hustler's Blues" ("Whiskey is my habit, good woman is all I crave/And I don't believe them two things will carry me to my grave") aided by second guitarist Josh White.

While the preponderance of Carr's songs are slow to mid-tempo blues, he regularly cut a variety of songs with a mix of tempos and styles like the cheerful hokum flavored "Papa's On The House Top", "Papa Wants To Knock A Jug", the infectious vocal harmony of the bouncy "Memphis Town", a fine rendition of the bawdy "The Dirty Dozen" and continued in this vein in later numbers like 1934's "Bo Bo Stomp" and "Don't Start No Stuff." Also recurrent is songs in a more popular vein such as "Think Of Me Thinking Of You", "How About Me?" and songs that mixed blues and popular music like "I Know That I'll Be Blue", "I Ain't Got No Money Now", a variation on "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out" and "Don't Say Goodbye." In style and manner, Carr's crooning pints the way to post-war singers like Cecil Gant, Nat King Cole and Charles Brown.

Read Liner Notes

Blackwell cut just over two-dozen sides under his own name between 1928 and 1935. He backed several other artists on record including Georgia Tom, Bumble Bee Slim, Black Bottom McPhail and Josh White among several others. He retired from the music industry not long after Carr’s death. He returned to music in the late 1950’s where he was recorded first in 1958 and was next recorded by Duncan P. Schiedt in 1959 and 1960.  These latter recordings were issued on the British 77 label as Blues Before Sunrise. Art Rosenbaum recorded him in 1962 for the Prestige/Bluesville label resulting in his finest latter day recording, the album Mr. Scrapper’s Blues which certainly ranks as one of the greatest blues revival records of the 60's. In 1963 Rosenbaum recorded him again for Bluesville, this time with singer Brooks Berry resulting in the marvelous My Heart Struck Sorrow that has yet to be issued on CD. Sadly Blackwell was shot and killed during a mugging in an Indianapolis alley in 1962. He was 59 years old.

After his death several artists wrote tribute songs about Carr including Scrapper Blackwell, Bill Gaither and Bumble Bee Slim. As for his influence, Elijah Wald writes: “His followers dominated blues for more than 20 years and affected every aspect of the African-American pop scene. In Chicago, studios filled up with piano-guitar duos and Carr clones like Bumble Bee Slim and Bill Gaither (billed as "Leroy's Buddy"). In Mississippi, Muddy Waters recalled "How Long" as the first song he ever learned. In Kansas City, Count Basie recorded Carr's hits as piano solos. On the West Coast, T-Bone Walker and Charles Brown made Carr's smooth urbanity the hallmark of the L.A. style. In New York, vocal groups from the Ink Spots to the Dominoes harmonized on Carr compositions. Nat King Cole's first hit, "That Ain't Right," was a Carr-inflected blues, and the R & B historian Arnold Shaw traced soul ballad singing from Carr through Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke to Otis Redding and Jerry Butler.” Among other artists influenced by Carr and Blackwell, Paul Oliver cites the above plus Turner Parrish, Champion Jack Dupree, Rhinehart and Stubblefield and Mercy Dee Walton. “Not only is it a testimony to the esteem  with which they were held among other blues singers – it was also an indication of the potency of the recording medium”, wrote Oliver.

Related Articles (word docs):

-The Death Of Leroy Carr by Theodore F. Watts (Jazz Journal, 1960)

-Blues Before Sunrise by Duncan P. Schiedt (Blues Before Sunrise Album Notes, 1962)

Edna HicksCemetery BluesEdna Hicks/Hazel Meyers/Laura Smith Vol. 2 1923-1927
Interview Pt. 1Alberta Hunter & Ida Cox.
Ida CoxGraveyard Dream BluesIda Cox Vol. 1 1923
Interview Pt. 21200 Series Launch
Edna TaylorGood Man BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 14 1923-1932
Edmonia HendersonWorried 'bout Him BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 9 1923-1930
Lena WilsonFour Flushin' PapaLena Wilson Vol. 1 1922-1924
Interview Pt. 3Ma Rainey
Ma RaineyDead Drunk BluesMother Of The Blues
Papa Charlie JacksonI'm Looking For A Woman Who...Papa Charlie Jackson Vol. 2 1926-1928
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesBest Of Blind Lemon Jefferson
Interview Pt. 4Blind Blake
Blind BlakeGeorgia BoundBest Of Blind Blake
Ethel WatersDown Home BluesEthel Waters 1921-1923
Interview Pt. 5Selling Records
Alice MooreBlack And Evil BluesSt. Louis Bessie & Alice Moore Vol. 1 1927-1929
Madlyn DavisKokola BluesFemale Blues Singers Vol. 5 1921-1928
Frank StokesYou ShallBest Of Frank Stokes
Interview Pt. 6Mayo Williams & Thomas Dorsey
Walter "Buddy Boy" HawkinsHow Come Mama BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Teddy DarbyLawdy Lawdy Worried BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Tommy JohnsonAlcohol And Jake BluesChasin That Devil Music
Willie BrownFuture BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Interview Pt. 7Talent Scouts
Charlie PattonMississippi Boweavil BluesScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Charlie SpandGood GalDreaming The Blues
James ' Boodle-It' WigginsGotta Shave 'em DryThe Paramount Masters
Will EzellPlaying The DozenMama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here
Jabo WilliamsJab’s BluesJuke Joint Saturday Night
Bobby GrantNappy Head BluesThe Paramount Masters
Hokum BoysGambler's BluesThe Hokum Boys Vol. 1 1929
William MooreRagtime MillionaireBroadcasting The Blues
Geeshie Wiley & Elvie ThomasPick Poor Robin CleanI Can't Be Satisfied Vol. 1
Blind Joe ReynoldsNinety-Nine BluesBlues Images Vol. 2
Edward ThompsonShowers Of Rain BluesA Richer Tradition
Bumble Bee SlimNo Woman No NickelBumble Bee Slim Vol. 1 1931-1934
Skip JamesCherry Ball BluesComplete Early Recordings
Interview Pt. 8Skip James
King Solomon HillThe Gone Dead TrainThe Paramount Masters
Son HousePreachin' The Blues Pt.1Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues

Show Notes:

Ida Cox Mean Loving Man BluesParamount records recorded some of the greatest blues artists of the 20's and early 30's and today we kick off the second of a multi-part feature on the label. In addition we'll also be airing and interview I did with Alex van der Tuuk the author of Paramount's Rise And Fall. Paramount Records was founded in 1917 as a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin. The chair company had made some wooden phonograph cabinets by contract for Edison Records. Wisconsin Chair decided to start making its own line of phonographs with a subsidiary called the "United Phonograph Corporation" at the end  of 1915. It made phonographs under the "Vista" brand name through the end of the decade; the line failed commercially. In 1917 a line of phonograph records was debuted with the "Paramount" label. They were recorded and pressed by Chair Company subsidiary "The New York Recording Laboratories, Incorporated." In its initial years, the Paramount label offered recordings of standard pop-music fare, on records recorded with below-average audio fidelity pressed in below-average quality shellac. In the early 1920's, Paramount was still racking up debts for the Chair Company while producing no net profit. Paramount began offering to press records for other companies at low prices. The Paramount Record pressing plant was contracted to press discs for Black Swan Records. When that later company floundered, Paramount bought out Black Swan and thus got into the business of making recordings by and for African-Americans. These so-called "race music" records became Paramount's most famous and lucrative business. Paramount’s "race record" series was launched in 1922 with its 1200 "race" series exclusively devoted to black music. The early catalog was dominated by female blues singers such as Lucille Hegamin, Alberta Hunter and Monette Moore and a bit later with records by stars Ida Cox and Ma Rainey. A large mail-order operation and weekly advertisements in black owned newspapers like the Chicago Defender were keys to the label's early success. The label's successful recordings by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake shifted the focus from women singers to male. The label went on to record some of the era's most celebrated male blues artists such as delta legends Charlie Patton, skip James, Tommy Johnson, Son House, Willie Brown plus diverse artists such as Buddy Boy Hawkins, the Mississippi Sheiks, Charlie Spand, Papa Charlie Jackson among many others. The onset of the depression crippled the recording industry and Paramount was eventually discontinued in 1932.

We open part two of our Paramount feature as we did our first, with some of the women who dominated the label's catalog in the early years before being eclipsed by the popularity of the solo male blues artists. Today we spin tracks by Edna Hicks, Ida Cox, Edna Taylor, Edmonia Henderson, Lena Wilson Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters and others.

Blues singer Edna Hicks was born in New Orleans and was the half-sister of Lizzie Miles and her brother was the trumpet player Herb Morand. Edna left New Orleans sometime around 1916 and worked in a variety of vaudeville and musical comedy shows. She began recording in 1923 with Victor and went on to make records with Brunswick, Gennett, Vocalion, Ajax, Columbia and Paramount. In 1925 she died due to burns that she suffered in an accident involving gasoline in her home in Chicago.

Ida Cox sang in church choirs as a child in Georgia. She ran away from home in 1910 when she was a teenager and performed in minstrel and tent shows as a comedienne and singer. She toured the country throughout the Teens and 1920s sometimes singing with Jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton and with King Oliver at the Plantation Cafe in Chicago. In 1923 she began her recording contract with the Paramount label, who billed her as the Uncrowned Queen of the Blues. She cut around ninety sides for the label through 1929.

Alongside Bessie Smith, who recorded for Columbia, Ma Rainey is one of the most celebrated woman blues singers of the era. Rainey first appeared onstage in 1900, singing and dancing in minstrel and vaudeville stage revues. In 1902 she married the song and dance man William "Pa" Rainey and from then on became known as Ma Rainey. The couple formed a song and dance act that included blues and popular songs. They toured the country, but primarily the South and became a popular attraction as part of Tolliver's Circus, The Musical Extravaganza and The Rabbit Foot Minstrels, where Rainey befriended a young Bessie Smith. It was not until 1923 that Ma Rainey signed a recording contract with Paramount. She was billed as the "Mother of the Blues", recording 100 songs between 1923 and 1928 for the label.

Ethel Waters was one of the most popular African-American singers and actresses of the 1920s. She moved to New York in 1919 after touring in vaudeville shows as a singer and a dancer. She made her recording debut in 1921 on Cardinal records but switched over to the Black Swan label, and recorded "Down Home Blues" and "Oh Daddy" the first Blues numbers for that company. In 1924 she cut five sides for Paramount. She frequently sang with Fletcher Henderson during the early 1920s, but by the mid-1920s Waters had became more of a pop singer.

The heyday of woman blues singers started to fade toward the mid to late 20's. Paramount's earliest male blues star was Papa Charlie Jackson who made his debut in 1924 followed by in 1926 by big selling artists Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake. In addition to those artists, who we profiled in part one,  we spin tracks by Frank Stokes and several fine piano players including Charlie Span and Will Ezell. Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Shieks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Shieks. Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor.

Next to nothing is known about barrelhouse pianist Charlie Spand (PDF). He waxed 22 sides for Paramount between 1929 and 1931 and two final sessions for Okeh in 1940. Spand first made a name for himself on the Detroit scene of the 1920's.

Ezell's early career was spent as an itinerant musician playing dances, labor camps and logging mills in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas. Ezell had a recording career that lasted for four years beginning in 1927 and he produced total of 17 tracks (including alternative takes) for Paramount Records. It was in his role as "house pianist" for Paramount that he supported artists such as Blind Roosevelt Graves, Bertha Henderson and was rumored to have worked for Bessie Smith. His success disappeared during the Depression and nothing is known of him after his last recording session in 1931.


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